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Release: Dec. 19, 2002

Professors say Iowa teen pregnancy prevention programs effective

University of Iowa researchers report that teen pregnancy rates continue to drop in a majority of Iowa counties served by community-based teen pregnancy prevention programs. Edward Saunders and Miriam Landsman, professors in the UI School of Social Work, evaluated 18 agencies that received funds from the Iowa Department of Human Services for teen pregnancy prevention programs. Half of those agencies were able to show a decrease in the teen pregnancy rates in the counties they served and an additional four programs maintained the gains made in prior years with no increase in teen birth rates. Among the remaining five programs, rates of teen births within the counties they serve increased only slightly.

"An examination of trends in adolescent pregnancy rates shows that rates have, in general, showed steady declines across Iowa," Saunders and Landsman write in their report.

This is the second year that the evaluation of the community-based prevention programs used census data and Vital Records data from the Iowa Department of Public Health to document the impact of the programs. The 18 agencies evaluated by the research team serve 53 Iowa counties. The evaluation also used information from the youth who have been reached by the prevention programs and information from other community leaders to document program successes.

"The main focus of these prevention programs is to reach out to the entire community to spread the abstinence and teen pregnancy prevention messages," Saunders said.

A total of 67,341 youth were exposed to activities of the community-based programs. These youth were generally reached through the media campaigns in each community or at community events such as health fairs. A much smaller number of youth were reached through specific adolescent pregnancy prevention programs in their schools.

Many of the prevention programs used Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Month (May) to develop specific community-wide programs. Some additional activities included creating newsletters for schools and industries, providing inserts for church bulletins, circulating agency newsletters, writing letters to the editor, distributing palm cards and educational pamphlets at health fairs, promoting the Tele-Friend phone line, enlisting private physicians to answer student-athletes questions about sex, hosting a radio talk show by teen leaders, using electronic signs, requesting mayoral proclamations, working with teen peer educators to create radio ads created, hosting legislative information sessions and breakfasts, and distributing tuxedo slips during prom season.

"It is important that youth have many different avenues in which to hear the abstinence and pregnancy prevention message in their communities, including their youth organizations like the Y, 4-H, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, their churches, their health clinics, businesses that serve them and in their schools," Saunders said. "Our report shows that considerable creativity is used by the grantees to promote adolescent pregnancy prevention and abstinence."

The prevention programs that are offered in the schools obtained evaluation results from almost 13,000 students. The highest evaluation scores among the students were associated with new knowledge that students obtained as a result of the prevention curriculum, a higher level of self esteem as a result of program participation, and an appreciation for how a pregnancy would affect their future goals.

When the prevention programs were asked what made their programs successful in the past year, they pointed to such examples as "support from public health agencies, community groups, youth service organizations and organizations dealing with adjudicated youth," "membership in the pregnancy prevention consortium broadened and now includes individuals from the faith community, medical field and service organizations," "collaborative efforts with other agencies, emphasis on rural outreach, and articles in rural papers," and "strong school and parental support for the new curriculum."

In addition to providing prevention programs within their communities and schools, the agencies funded by the Department of Human Services grant also offered educational and health services to pregnant and parenting adolescents in their counties. Saunders and Landsman note that state budget cuts led to reduced funding for many social service agencies that serve pregnant and parenting youth in Iowa.

"These cuts affect (the agencies') abilities to offer as many services as they would like to offer," they write. "Without the multifaceted support that these programs offer to at-risk adolescent mothers and fathers, their children would likely remain at risk for complications at birth, child abuse and neglect, foster care placement, and a lifetime of socioeconomic disadvantage."

The study was conducted by staff of the National Resource Center on Family-Centered Practice, which is part of the UI School of Social Work. In addition to Saunders and Landsman, research assistants Judith McRoberts and Nancy Graff worked on the project. Copies of the full report, "A cross-site evaluation of adolescent pregnancy prevention, intervention and community programs in Iowa, 2001-2002," can be obtained from Jo Lerberg with the Iowa Department of Human Services at (515) 281-4207.

The pregnancy-prevention programs evaluated in this study served the following Iowa counties: Adair, Allamakee, Audubon, Benton, Black Hawk, Boone, Bremer, Buchanan, Butler, Carroll, Cedar, Cerro Gordo, Clarke, Clayton, Clinton, Dallas, Decatur, Dubuque, Fayette, Floyd, Franklin, Fremont, Grundy, Guthrie, Hamilton, Hancock, Hardin, Howard, Humboldt, Iowa, Johnson, Jones, Kussuth, Linn, Louisa, Lucas, Madison, Marion, Marshall, Mitchell, Muscatine, Page, Polk, Ringgold, Taylor, Wapello, Warren, Washington, Wayne, Winnebago, Winneshiek, Woodbury, Worth, and Wright. For contact information for specific county programs, call Lerberg at (515) 281-4207.